People to Watch: Elizabeth Forel

Elizabeth Forel, President of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
By Megan Bungeroth

Even those who don’t agree with her position will agree that Elizabeth Forel is one of the most passionate people in the city when it comes to her cause. Forel is the president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, and she has been fighting, loudly and vociferously, to end the horse carriage industry in the city. Now it appears that 2015 could be the year that goal is achieved – or the year that Forel is forced to ramp up her campaign and fight even harder.

The Coalition formed in 2006, spurred on by a carriage horse accident that resulted in a five-year-old horse getting euthanized after he crashed into a station wagon while harnessed to a carriage. Since then, the group of animal rights activists have attacked the practice from all sides, from successfully lobbying the city to hold the horse and stable owners to higher standards, to picketing in Central Park and outside the homes of supporters of the industry (like actor Liam Neeson, who has incurred a special wrath from animal rights groups for making public statements supporting the carriage drivers), and, perhaps most importantly, making their voices heard loud and clear in the mayoral election.

Way back when Christine Quinn was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for mayor, Forel and her fellow activists unleashed a ferocious campaign denouncing Quinn for her previous refusal as City Council Speaker to consider a ban on the carriage industry. The group NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets) also organized against Quinn and began dumping money into de Blasio’s coffers. Activists stood on street corners with T-shirts bearing “Anybody but Quinn” slogans. Before long, de Blasio, seen previously as an underdog, was leading the pack, and the power of the animal lobby was made apparent.

Forel and her Coalition have the chance to make an impact this year, especially since NYCLASS – a group with the same ultimate goal but different ideas about how to get there – has gotten some high-profile dings in the past several months. NYCLASS spent a lot of money to design and create a prototype for an electric, vintage-style car that could conceivably replace the horse carriages, but the concept fell flat with the city council and those who question where the continuous funding for these pricey cars would come from. NYCLASS also got slapped with $26,000 in fines from the city’s Campaign Finance Board for making improper campaign contributions to two city council candidates. So while the larger and more media-savvy of the two groups licks its wounds, Forel and the Coalition are in the prime spot to lead the charge this January. Forel said that they’re launching a subway ad campaign this month, and will follow that with newspaper ads. She also asserts that mainstream media “is not doing their due dilligence” on the issue, and said her organization will be turning to blogs like One Green Planet and the Dodo to get their message across.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has promised a vote on the bill to ban the carriages early this year. If it passes, the bill would phase out the industry by mid-2016. It still faces stiff opposition from the carriage industry, and many outer borough council members are not on board. It’s unclear if the bill will get the support it needs to pass; if it fails, it would put de Blasio squarely in the crosshairs of the animal rights supporters who helped elect him on his promise to enact a ban.

What is clear is that Forel and her fellow animal activists won’t let this go until Central Park’s horse carriage rides become another part of New York’s long-gone, storied past. “The bill will pass,” Forel said. “It is the right thing to do and most Council Members want to be on the compassionate and right side of history.”